Oct 14, 2012

"Must-Know" Blues Tunes: Comparing Lists

For various reasons, my "consensus" list of must-know jazz standards (see my post from Sept. 9, 2012) turned out to be short on blues. This was partially because of the nature of the lists I was comparing, and partially because there are so many blues heads, most of them using generic blues chord progressions. (We are talking about "jazz blues" here, of course - not Mississippi Delta, Chicago blues, '50s rock, etc.)

In this post I will try to find a consensus on which are the most essential blues tunes to learn. This time I have a few additional lists of "must-know" tunes to compare.

Madisonjazzjam.org has a page with 7 "must-know" lists, from 1) The author of the page, 2) Jamey Aebersold, 3) Nick Drozdoff, 4) Pete Thomas, 5) Manhattan School of Music, 6) University of Oregon Jazz Studies Department, and 7) A group of Maryland colleges.

For the present discussion, I have compared 6 of the lists from madisonjazzjam.org, as well as the 6 sources I used in my September 9 post, extracting only blues tunes. Pete Thomas' list was one of the 6 that I had already used, so I didn't count it a second time. Also, one of my sources (Bert Ligon's list) itself incorporated suggestions from "several" jazz educators. So I suppose I'm comparing "must-know" lists from at least 14 different sources.

The results are below. Nine "hits" means that the tune showed up in nine of the lists, eight "hits" means it showed up in eight lists, etc. I don't find too much to disagree with in these results, at least down through the two-hit list. Personally, I'd only vote for about half the tunes on the one-hit list.

Jazz students (that's all of us, right?) should probably try to know most of these blues heads, all the way down to the two-hit list, and a few more besides.

How did these particular blues tunes become "must-knows"? I'd say through a process that involves these factors: 1) inclusion in some landmark recordings, 2) inclusion in well-known fake books, 3) status as popular jam vehicles, 4) the quality of the tunes, 5) if they are easy to learn, 6) currency in the world of jazz education. Of course, these routes to popularity overlap, and influence each other.

9 hits: Billie's Bounce 
8 hits: Mr. P.C. 
7 hits: All Blues, Blue Monk, Tenor Madness 
6 hits: Footprints, Now's the Time, Straight No Chaser 
5 hits: C Jam Blues, Things Ain't What They Used To Be, Watermelon Man 
4 hits: Stolen Moments 
3 hits: Au Privave, Blue Train, Cool Blues, Cousin Mary, Misterioso, Sandu 
2 hits: 
Bags' Groove
Birks' Works
Blues for Alice
Blues Walk
Freddie Freeloader
Night Train
One O'Clock Jump
The Sidewinder
Some Other Blues
Sonnymoon for Two
West Coast Blues 
One hit: 
Beale St. Blues
Bessie's Blues
Blue 'n Boogie
Blue Seven
Blues for Alice
Blues On the Corner
No Blues
Red Top
Royal Garden Blues
St. Louis Blues
Society Red
Tin Roof Blues
West End Blues

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